Algae fuelled fighter jets

UOP, a Honeywell company, is leading a team of researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) to explore alternative sources of jet fuel.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $7.2m award for the project, in which the researchers are looking into converting vegetable and algal oils to Jet Propellant 8 (JP-8) or military jet fuel that is used by the US and NATO armed forces.

The team at ASU will demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of using algae as a feedstock resource by screening for oil-rich algal strains, evaluating their potential as oil producers and developing an algal feedstock production system that will supply oil. The oil yield of algae is said to be at least 100 times that of soybean for each acre of land per year.

‘Algae are non-food/feed sources, so there is no conflict of using food crop plants for fuel rather than for food,’ said Qiang Hu, one of ASU’s researchers. ‘Also, algae can be grown on land that is unsuitable for agriculture and can use saline or brackish water, making the algae feedstock production system complementary rather than competitive to existing agriculture.’

ASU, UOP, Honeywell Aerospace, Southwest Research Institute and Sandia National Laboratories will work on developing and commercialising a vegetable or algal oil-based, instead of petroleum-based, system to produce the jet fuel.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.